Cases of substance abuse rise amid the coronavirus pandemic

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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — COVID-19 has not only caused physical illness, but also mental health issues.

Local experts say they’ve seen increased anxiety and depression which can often lead to chemical dependency to cope with the pressures.

The pandemic is even more troubling for those who already struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction.

COVID-19 has led to to more people in our community struggling with anxiety and depression.

In some cases, the depression and anxiety can be too much and some people may turn to alcohol, drugs or other substances.

What may have started out in the beginning of the pandemic as a glass of wine, or a beer a night, may have evolved into bottles of wine or cases of beer a night.

The First United Methodist Church in Panama City, hosts an all-inclusive recovery group called Celebrate Recovery.

The group’s focus is helping those find recovery from any hurts, habits or hang ups.

Senior Minister, Jeremy Pridgeon, said it’s no surprise substance abuse issues have seen a spike during the pandemic.

“You know when you have a disruptive event of the nature of COVID, and then people then have to figure out how to cope, sometimes we don’t do so in the best of ways and we can move to using substance abuse,” Pridgeon said.

Pridgeon also added the Bay County community is not only recovering from one disruptive event, but two.

“For our area it’s a particularly challenging time because this is the second disruption that we’ve encountered,” Pridgeon said. “Hurricane Michael was the first one and we were already in a recovery cycle that presents those very same issues and now we’ve added the second one with covid so we’re in a very precarious time for the next several years when we look at the duration for how long it’ll take for us to move from Michael and COVID back to some sense of what the new normal will be.”

Licensed clinical social worker, Suzanne Clarke, said the quarantine has made it difficult for recovering addicts to find the help needed to stay on track.

“But now things are kind of settling in, and groups are starting to meet in-person again of course socially distancing but things are starting to come around we’re starting to figure out like a new way to get support that moves more towards what it used to look like but not quite yet 100 percent,” Clarke said.

Those struggling with addiction say connecting with others in recovery is a big part of staying sober. While online counseling and therapy groups are options, Clarke said that might not be enough.

“I mean, what I’ve been told it’s not nearly as helpful,” Clarke said. “You know because we’re accustomed to going to the same place for meetings, the familiarity of the place, the familiarity of the people where those meetings are, those familiar in-person connections, and those small conversations before the meetings, after the meetings, people were saying they were missing that, those connections and especially when COVID hit right away, it was just a turn off like switching off a valve so immediately not having that support was really rough for people.”

Celebrate Recovery Ministry Lead, Stacy Rodolph, said she has seen firsthand how detrimental forced isolation can be on a person in recovery.

“I have been able to see a few of our forever family members and a few of the people in the community that I know during this time in these last seven months kind of go backwards,” Rodolph said. “They were doing really well and find themselves in that dark place again. But that doesnt mean that just because they fall backwards, that there’s not hope to move forward.”

As a person who is in recovery for mental health, Rodolph said in her experience it’s easier to turn to other substances to cope with anxiety.

“During this isolation time, I have even seen myself sometimes really wanting to withdraw and not go anywhere and that’s not well for my overall recovery,” Rodolph said. “So I found aspects of like maybe overeating a little bit more, or eating substances, or eating foods that aren’t necessarily right for me and some of the challenges that I have physically so I do understand that there are those aspects where we turn to other behaviors, or we turn to other substances to kind of cope with the isolation and the feeling of loneliness.”

In a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control 13 percent say they started or increased substance use to cope with the emotions of COVID-19.

Mary Cummings, a Celebrate Recovery member, said she isn’t surprised to see more people turning to substances during these times.

“If I hadn’t been at this good place in my life, then it’s possible I could have backed into that,” Cummings said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, here is a list of some local resources below:

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